Research Note 9: Edinburgh Central Library and Highland Folk Museum

The latest research visits (April & May 2022) have been on the trail of a particular series of photographs by Dr Isabel Frances Grant (1887-1983) that are part of the IF Grant Photographic Collection. I moved from one digital archive, am baile to two physical archives- Edinburgh Central Library which holds the photographic collection itself and Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore, which is the embodiment and repository for IF Grant’s wider work as the founder of Am Fasgadh.

IF Grant described Am Fasgadh as ‘a pioneering attempt to create a Highland variant of the well-known folk museums of Scandinavia’. [1] She originally organised an exhibition in Inverness in 1930, in the hope that someone upon seeing the history and the material culture of different areas of the Highlands and islands, would create such a museum. Whilst the exhibition, lasting 7 weeks and receiving ‘close on 20,000 visitors’ [2] proved popular, no one came forward. IF Grant then went on to tour over Scotland to collect and buy artefacts, which she subsequently housed in three iterations of Am Fasgadh (‘The Shelter’). Grant saw Am Fasgadh as ‘providing a shelter for homely Highland things’ [3] in Iona (established 1935), Laggan and Kingussie. Following gifting her collection and museum to the four Scottish Universities [4] in 1954, Am Fasgadh was taken over by Highland Region in 1975.

The IF Grant Collection online at am baile and held at Edinburgh Central Library brings together IF Grant’s own photographs with the work of other photographers that she purchased, including Margaret Fay Shaw and Violet Banks. All the photographs depict different aspects of Highland life. Shaw’s photographs augment a gap in the collection on South Uist; whilst Banks’ works are of the ‘Last remaining inhabited thatched cottage’ in Eigg and a white thatched cottage in Sconser, Skye.

Grant’s own photographs, (attributed to her in the IF Grant Collection), depict a keen interest in different building styles and variations of thatched cottages across Scotland. Whilst there are examples from the larger islands of Lewis, Mull, Skye, and Arran, Grant also photographed buildings in Colonsay, Ulva and Lismore. She took examples across the north of Scotland in Thurso and Durness, around to north west, in Mallaig and Morar. Intriguingly, there is also a sub section of Grant’s photographs which are of ruinous cottages, which on one emotive level illustrate that this way of life was fast disappearing. Grant notes the cause in the early 1930s as ‘the Scottish Board of Agriculture was carrying a housing drive. Every steamer I travelled in appeared to be loaded with piles of window frames, sanitary equipment, etc… one began to wonder if any cottage of the traditional style would be left’. [5]

My research day at Highland Folk Museum, concentrating on IF Grant’s own photography, has proved to be three-fold – seeing the volume of photography that Grant commissioned from other photographers, mostly relating to Am Fasgadh; the subsequent usage of that photography to disseminate the existence of the museum further afield; and, some context relating to her own photography series of the cottages. Firstly, Grant worked with different photographers as well as postcard publishers Valentines and JB White, to document artefacts, interiors and exteriors of the three iterations of Am Fasgadh. She then utilised this documentation for spreading the word of the museum, in particular as saleable composite image postcards for museum visitors. A number of the photographs also illustrate articles on the museum in Scots Magazine and The Listener. Names that crop up repeatedly in her photograph album captions are Glasgow photographer John Mackay, who took photographs of the objects such as stools, chairs and farming implements, on mostly stark white backgrounds; and Donald B MacCulloch, whose address stamped on the back of one loose photograph in an album places him in Aviemore. In amongst another archival box, several visitors mailed IF Grant photographs of their day at the museum, which illustrates cameras were very much everyday objects used by the general population.

Cover of photograph album, with IF Grant’s handwritten index Photo: Jenny Brownrigg (2022)

In the photograph albums held in Am Fasgadh, Grant’s own captions provide a good level of detail relating to the authorship of photographs of the museum interiors and exteriors. An example is ‘Large photograph by D.B. MacCulloch’. However, on the pages there are also smaller, unattributed photographs of the museum. One option would be to surmise she did not note when a photograph is one of hers, but it is difficult to be sure of her authorship when she worked with numerous photographers. In Box 6, there are two foolscap sheets of paper, which are the only visual reference to the series of thatched cottages held at Edinburgh Central Library. There are 6 photographs affixed across the two sheets, with captions relating to object and place, in IF Grant’s handwriting. ‘1. A ruined cottage in Inverness-shire’ shows the pared back gable, stripped of thatch. It sits on the page next to ‘2. A very primitive cottage in Barra with hearth in the middle of the room’. The photograph captions do not state the author, however the image of the Barra interior, is definitely one of Margaret Fay Shaw’s. The Edinburgh Central Library holds larger reprints of this image, correctly attributed to Shaw. On the second foolscap page, the photograph with caption ‘5. Lewis houses’, reverts back to likely being taken by Grant. In this example, is the blurring of authorship down to IF Grant’s larger role of collector? Did she see her own photography as part of a larger collection, alongside other photographers’ work?

In Box 5, commissioned Aviemore photographer Donald B MacCulloch appears again, this time writing an article ‘Am Fasgadh: The Iona Museum’, for Scots Magazine and Scottish Country Life. MacCulloch states, ’She [IF Grant] has also formed a remarkable collection of old thatch cottages, and of various domestic activities carried on throughout the North Country and islands’ (P.48). This is the first external appraisal of the series as part of a collection.

Furthermore, the inclusion of these photographs in the exhibition catalogue for the ‘Highland Exhibition Inverness’ 1930, pre-dates this series to Grant’s subsequent establishing of Am Fasgadh’s first iteration in 1935. The introduction essay on P30 notes:

There will be a collection of portfolios [in the exhibition] for those who care to spend more time … there will be a large collection of photographs of old Highland cottages and of familiar work scenes.

The last entry in the catalogue reads: ‘Portfolio of Photography of life in the Highlands, lent by Miss IF Grant, Balnespick.’ Grant saw this particular portfolio’s purpose as one which augmented the exhibition, for those interested in the subject.

It is not unusual to traverse ground between archives to understand better the motivations and aims that each of the women photographers and filmmakers from early 20th Century in Scotland had for their work. The path between Edinburgh Central Library and Highland Folk Museum is no different. In a photocopied bibliography of Dr IF Grant’s written work, held at Am Fasgadh, it is noted ‘”Random recollections of the distribution of Local Types of Cottages”, typescript, 17pp, deposited with Edinburgh City Libraries, a companion piece to IF Grant Collection of photographs (1965)’. I shall look forward to returning to Edinburgh Central Library to learn more about this portfolio of images, and, hopefully, to shed more light on the photography she authored.

With thanks to Helen Pickles, Highland Folk Museum and Iain Duffus, Edinburgh Central Library

Am Fasgadh entrance Photo: Jenny Brownrigg (2022)


[1] P.11, ‘The Making of Am Fasgadh: An account of the Origins of the Highland Folk Museum by its Founder’, Isabel Frances Grant, (2007, National Museums Scotland).

[2] From Report of the Joint Honorary Secretaries to The Executive Committee of the Highland Exhibition 1930, typescript, (Accessions no: 2:1985), Am Fasgadh

[3] P.191, ‘The Making of Am Fasgadh: An account of the Origins of the Highland Folk Museum by its Founder’, Isabel Frances Grant, (2007, National Museums Scotland).

[4] P.10, Hugh Cheape, introduction, ‘The Making of Am Fasgadh: An account of the Origins of the Highland Folk Museum by its Founder’, Isabel Frances Grant, (2007, National Museums Scotland).

[5] P.30, Ibid.

Decommissioned Life Cycles: Cleaning

Limpet 500, Wave Power Station, (2000-2012) Isle of Islay

The components required for renewable energy have their own finite, often short, life cycles. Limpet 500 was Europe’s first experimental wave chamber and the world’s first commercial wave power device, connecting to the UK national grid. It was designed by Wavegen and Queens University Belfast. Nine years after its decommissioning, the remaining concrete structure could be viewed as contemporary archaeology. On the Autumn equinox 2021, at age 50, I cleaned in front of Limpet 500, using heather from the Mull of Oa.

Produced as a double sided A5 card, edition of 100 (2021)

Photograph: Alastair S. Macdonald


Overlaps: Island Post Office

Post and Telegraph Office, Eriskay, South Uist. Photographer and year unknown

I was invited by Shalmali Shetty to write a short piece for her publication this cloud may burst (2020), which was submitted as part of her GSA MLitt in Curatorial Practice (Contemporary Art). Shetty invited four researchers and artists – Debi Banerjee, Sean Patrick Campbell, Katri Heinämäki and myself – to reflect on ideas of loss and preservation of memory around their use of archival material in their work. The publication has an overview A memorial to memories by Shetty.

For my contribution, Overlaps: Island Post Office, I look at one post and telegraph office, on the Hebridean island of Eriskay. In the course of researching early twentieth century women photographers in Scotland, I began to notice periodic overlaps of subject matter, locations or even people in their photographs.  From trawling their archives, I saw that Edinburgh photographer Violet Banks (1896-1985) and American photographer and folklorist Margaret Fay Shaw (1903-2004) had separately photographed the same post and telegraph office. The writing begins with the photographs made by these two women, then tracks this particular example of the island post office to the 1938 Empire Exhibition in Glasgow.

Post Office and Tower, The Clachan, Empire Exhibition, Scotland 1938. Valentines and Son Limited (Dundee and London)

this cloud may burst can be purchased from Good Press retailing at £10.

With thanks to Shalmali Shetty for the invitation to contribute. Images below from Good Press listing.

The State of Education

St James’, 1895, Green St, The Calton, Glasgow. Image: Jenny Brownrigg

Audio reading of text here (6 mins) Photographic index of schools here

The first thing I noticed on returning to Glasgow’s east end, after four months away for lockdown, was the extent to which nature had taken over the streets and a number of the buildings. High weeds were growing profusely along curbs and pavements. The old derelict meat market’s security gates on Bellgrove Street had been prised open, to reveal an abundance of greenery within.

Tureen Street, 1876, Green St, Calton, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

Green Street is a stone’s throw away from Bellgrove Street. It is book-ended by two vacant Glasgow Public School Board buildings- Tureen Street and St James’. Buddleia was reclaiming both, spilling out over the guttering, and in the case of St James’, sprouting profusely over the front elevation. Bushes were forming their own High Line park around the roof of Tureen Street. These became the first School Board of Glasgow buildings that I visited over late July until 30 September 2020. I resolved to make a series of walks during Phase 3 of Scotland’s Route Map, to the remaining- by my calculations- thirty-one schools across the city. [1]

Springburn Public School, 1875, Gourlay Street, Springburn, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

The School Board of Glasgow built seventy-five schools over the period 1874-1916. Such a profusion of schools was due to The Education (Scotland) Act of 1872, which made schooling free and compulsory for five to thirteen year olds and transferred control of those schools from church to state. Until that point 40% of the school population had not received any education. The new schools were to accommodate an estimated 35000 children. [2]

Parkhead Public School, 1879, Westmuir Street, Parkhead, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

The schools were particularly prevalent in number near the big industrial works and foundries, where workforces lived, such as St Rollox Chemical Works (St Rollox Public School and Rosemount Public School in Royston) Parkhead Forge (Parkhead Public School and Newlands Public School only have one main road separating them) and Saracen Foundry, Possilpark (Springburn Public School and Elmvale Public School in close proximity).

Strathclyde Public School, 1904, Carstairs Street, Dalmarnock, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

The School Board of Glasgow’s large building programme involved commissioning (all male) architects including Charles Rennie Mackintosh, David Thomson, Honeyman and Keppie, H.E. Clifford and McWhannell & Rogerson. Earlier buildings are yellow sandstone, whilst later are red sandstone. Architectural innovations included separate entrances, staircases and playgrounds for boys and girls. The words ‘Boys’, ‘Girls’ and often ‘Infants’ are carved over entrances, on gate posts and, in the case of Golfhill, spelt out in the wrought ironwork of the gate. On the majority of the buildings the school names and ‘School Board of Glasgow’ have been relief carved in the stone. Some of the bolder architectural aesthetics, in particular Mackintosh’s Martyrs’ and Scotland Street, influenced other schools, such as the window details of St Rollox.

Golfhill Public School, 1903, Circus Drive, Dennistoun, Glasgow. Image: Jenny Brownrigg

The schools over the ensuing century or more since their construction, have had different fates. Town planning had either cleared some or run motorways near to many- the curve of the M8 at Washington Street; the A803 behind Martyrs’ in Townhead, then again by Springburn Public School and Elmvale Primary.

Washington Street Public School, 1890, Washington Street, Anderston, Glasgow. Image: Jenny Brownrigg

The remaining School Board of Glasgow buildings fall into four different categories: those which were demolished; those currently vacant; those that have had change of use into community or business centres, Council-run social services, residential flats or museums; and those which have remained as schools. Of the second category, Haghill, stands out in all its dereliction. Stranded in the middle of a square of tenements in the East End, the pink-purple willow herb was high around the perimeter, as the yellow ragwort grew through the cracks in the playground.

Haghill Public School, 1904, Marwick Street/Walter Street, Dennistoun, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

Eight of the Public Schools remain primary schools – Alexandra Parade (1897), Garnetbank (1905), Saint Denis’ Primary School (Dennistoun Public School, 1883), Dunard Street Primary School (1900), Sir John Neilson Cuthbertson Primary (1906), Al Khalil College (Abbotsford Public School, 1879), Royston Primary School (St Rollox Public School, 1906) and Elmvale Primary School (1901). Brightly coloured hippo, whale and pencil bins populated playgrounds. Chalk grafitti at child height circumnavigated the wall at Elmvale. A blue hula hoop had been successfully thrown to hook over a short pipe on the wall at Royston Primary School. Bunting, messages of hope and Covid-safe banners were instigated on walls and railings to welcome back pupils.

St Rollox Public School, 1906, Royston Road, Royston, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

Sir John Neilson Cuthbertson Primary School was the final school on my list to photograph. It was named after the Chairman of the School Board of Glasgow (he was Chair 1885-1903). This was the only building I caught inhabited as during much of the period, schools had remained closed from point of lockdown, 23rd March, to all but the children of key workers, until 11th August 2020. Teachers were outside doing a socially distanced drill in the playground.

Sir John Neilson Cuthbertson School, 1906, Coplaw Street, Southside Central ward, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

The School Board of Glasgow buildings to the east, west, north and south of Glasgow are now comforting sentinels on any traverse across the city. My memory of the view from the train window, as it leaves Glasgow and cuts through Springburn has always been of high rises. Now, I realise, Elmvale Primary School has always been part of that picture.

See images of all of the remaining Schools here.


[1] There are other school boards in Glasgow such as Govan School Board (schools including Hillhead Public School) and Maryhill Board.

[2] The School Board of Glasgow 1873-1919, James M. Roxburgh, University of London Press Ltd, 1971

State of Education: Index of remaining School Board of Glasgow Schools, Sept 2020

1895, ST JAMES’, ARCHITECTS: Thomson & Sandilands STATUS: Currently vacant but earmarked to become Glasgow’s fourth Gaelic Primary School.

St James’, 1895, Green St, Calton, Glasgow. Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1876, TUREEN STREET, ARCHITECT: John Honeyman, James Jackson Craig, Macwhannell & Rogerson, Ninian Macwhannell, James Lymburn Cowan STATUS: Vacant

Tureen Street, 1876, Green St, Calton, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1875, THOMSON STREET, ARCHITECT: James Thomson of Baird & Thomson STATUS: Residential flats

Thomson Street Public School, 1875, Dennistoun, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1883, DENNISTOUN PUBLIC SCHOOL, ARCHITECTS: James Salmon & Son STATUS: Saint Denis’ Primary School

Dennistoun Public School. 1883, Meadowpark Street, Dennistoun, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1897, ALEXANDRA PARADE, ARCHITECTS: McWhannell & Rogerson STATUS: Alexandra Parade Primary School

Alexandra Parade Public School, 1897, Armadale Street, Dennistoun, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1890, KERR STREET, ARCHITECT: John Gordon STATUS: Dornoch Business Centre

Calton (Kerr Street) Public School, 1890, Kerr St, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1902, HAGHILL, ARCHITECT: Andrew Lindsay Miller STATUS: Vacant, owned by Spectrum Properties

Haghill Public School, 1904, Marwick Street/Walter Street, Dennistoun, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1903, GOLFHILL, ARCHITECT: Alexander Nisbet Paterson STATUS: Vacant, owned by Spectrum Properties

Golfhill Public School, 1903, Circus Drive, Dennistoun, Glasgow. Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1875, SPRINGBURN, ARCHITECT: David Thomson STATUS: Vacant

Springburn Public School, 1875, Gourlay Street, Springburn, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1901, ELMVALE, ARCHITECT: H.E. Clifford STATUS: Elmvale Primary

Elmvale Public School, 1901, Hawthorn Street, Possilpark, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1906, ST ROLLOX, ARCHITECT: D. McNaughtan STATUS: Royston Primary School

St Rollox Public School, 1906, Royston Road, Royston, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1897, ROSEMOUNT, ARCHITECT: JB Wilson STATUS: Millburn Centre

Rosemount Public School, 1897, Millburn Street, Royston, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1904, STRATHCLYDE, ARCHITECT: John McKissack STATUS: Strathclyde Business Centre

Strathclyde Public School, 1904, Carstairs Street, Dalmarnock, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1878, PARKHEAD, ARCHITECT: Hugh McClure STATUS: The Old School House

Parkhead Public School, 1879, Westmuir Street, Parkhead, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1895, NEWLANDS, ARCHITECT: Andrew Balfour STATUS: Glasgow Addiction Services

Newlands Public School, 1895, Springfield Road, Parkhead, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1895, HAYFIELD, ARCHITECT: John H Hamilton STATUS: Hayfield Support Services With Deaf People

Hayfield Public School, 1905, Old Rutherglen Road, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1894, ADELPHI TERRACE, ARCHITECT: Thomas Lennox Watson STATUS: Currently being renovated by Urban Office.

Adelphi Terrace Public School, 1894, Florence Street, Gorbals, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1879, ABBOTSFORD, ARCHITECTS: H & D Barclay STATUS: Al Khalil College

Abbotsford Public School, 1879, Abbotsford Place, Laurieston, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1906, SCOTLAND STREET, ARCHITECT: CRM Mackintosh STATUS: Museum of School Education

Scotland Street Public School, 1906, Scotland Street, Kingston, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1906, SIR JOHN NEILSON CUTHBERTSON, ARCHITECT: James Miller STATUS: Sir John Neilson Cuthbertson Primary School

Sir John Neilson Cuthbertson School, 1906, Coplaw Street, Southside Central ward, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1897, MARTYRS, ARCHITECTS: Honeyman & Keppie STATUS: Glasgow Social Work Leaving Care Services

Martyrs’ Public School, 1897, Parson Street, Townhead, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1905, GARNETBANK, ARCHITECT: Thomas L Watson STATUS: Garnetbank Primary School

Garnetbank Public School, 1905, Renfrew Street, Garnethill, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1878, GARNETHILL, ARCHITECT: William F MacGibbon STATUS: Residential flats

Garnethill Public School, 1878, Buccleuch Street, Garnethill, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg


Washington Street Public School, 1890, Washington Street, Anderston, Glasgow. Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1877, OVERNEWTON, ARCHITECT: J Burnet STATUS: Currently under development to become residential flats

Overnewton Public School, 1877, Lumsden Street, Yorkhill, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1888, KELVINHAUGH, ARCHITECT: Frank Burnet STATUS: Kelvingrove College

Kelvinhaugh Public School, 1888, Gilbert/Teviot Street, Anderston/City/Yorkhill, Glasgow. Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1900, DUNARD STREET ARCHITECT: H B W Steele & Balfour STATUS: Dunard Primary School

Dunard Street Public School, 1900, Dunard Street, Maryhill, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1890, NAPIERSHALL STREET, ARCHITECT: Robert Alexander Bryden STATUS: Multicultural Centre

Napiershall Street Public School, 1890, Napiershall St, Hillhead, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1882, WOODSIDE, ARCHITECT: Robert Dalglish STATUS: Scotland Trades Union Congress / The Stand Comedy Club

Woodside Public School, 1882, Woodlands Road, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1915, SHAKESPEARE STREET, ARCHITECT: Ninian Macwhannell STATUS: ‘North Kelvin Apartments’, Residential flats

Shakespeare Street Public School, 1915, Maryhill, Glasgow. Image: Jenny Brownrigg

1901, WILLOWBANK, ARCHITECT: Alexander Petrie STATUS: Residential flats

Willowbank Public School, 1901, Willowbank Street, West End, Glasgow Image: Jenny Brownrigg

For details of architects, see and Dictionary of Scottish Architects

Beyond: Interview with an ultra-marathon runner (1999)

The following are extracts from a conversation with William Sichel, an ultra-marathon runner. William was British 100km Champion, British No.1 at the 24 hour event and in 2000 was World No.1 for 24 hours (road) with 153.29 miles set at Basel, Switzerland on 13/14 May 2000.

Ultra marathon race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Ultra marathon race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Initially I wanted to speak to William as there was a paradox between the sport he competed in and where he lived – the Orkney island of Sanday which measures 21 km length wise and between 1 and 9 km width wise. For this reason alone he was the ideal person to discuss the meaning of limits with. Moreover I wanted to investigate the implications of running to infinity. As the interview progressed, I understood William had the capacity to ‘handle distance’ because he consistently translated the unknown into facts and figures. By using this method the vague expanse of infinity can be pinned down; concentrated into human scale.

This interview took place in the lounge of a Kirkwall B&B, 24 February 1999.

JB: I was looking at the dictionary definition for ultra and it states that ‘it is an attempt to pass beyond the limits of the known’. I wanted to speak to you about your ultra marathon running. In this sport you are definitely passing beyond these limits. You are almost running to infinity. First of all, could we talk a bit about the distances that are involved? I know there are 100 km races and 24 hour runs.

Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

WS: You are right, ultra does mean beyond the limits. In athletic terms, any distance… well let’s put it this way: A marathon is a set distance, its 26.2 miles, 42.1km. An ultra marathon or ultra-distance race is a race beyond that distance, but obviously in order to organise this sport on a world-wide basis there are two distances that have been accepted as more or less standard distances. One of them is 100km which is 62.2 miles. Then the other one is the 24 hours race which is as far as you can run in 24 hours.

JB: A bit of and obvious question but can a runner become lost on a long distance route?

WS: Well normally the runners don’t have to navigate. We don’t have Global Positioning Devices or anything like that as the terrain we pass over isn’t terribly wild in that sense. There are markers and marshals out on the course too. The only one I can think of is the West Highland Way competition- 93 miles that takes about 20 hours. There you have to be careful. You can go off route. They try to have markers but in this case you do have to navigate.

Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

JB: I had imagined that the routes of these races would be like starting at one point and then just running out completely as far as you can go…

WS: In reality the 100 km races are either point to point or quite often like laps around towns. Courses vary according to what country hosts them. 24 hour races are always held on loops – either on an ordinary running track or…

Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

JB: Was that like the one in France?

WS: That was a road loop, 10 miles around a town. They count the laps then measure when you stop, because obviously, especially with 24 hour running it is very important that a careful check is kept on the distances because otherwise all sorts of disputes can occur. Someone says they have run a silly amount and no-one has counted the laps properly. It’s highly regulated so that performances are compared properly. So that’s how it is organised.

JB: When did you make the choice to compete at such a distance? Were you doing marathon running or distance running?

Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Ultra Marathon, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

WS: I’ve had a very sporty life. I was heavily into table tennis in the ‘70s and when I retired from that in 1981 that’s just when the marathon boom was starting. I’d always done abit of running for personal fitness and was quite keen to have a go at the marathon running. I just went ahead and did a marathon with not much training and did a very fast time just straight off. I did 2 hrs 43 which is you know, quite a reasonable time. In 1982 we moved to Sanday… I wasn’t involved in any formal competitive athletics or running until 1992 when I got back into half marathons and marathons. It was someone at the shop where I got all of my running supplies by mail order who suggested the ultra marathon. He was asking about my training and about racing and did I recover quickly and I said yes, that I had raced 3 in 1993 and recovered well. He then asked me how far did I run on my training on the island and I said that quite often on a Sunday I would run about 20-25 miles, I enjoyed it. And he said, ‘Oh! Have you ever thought of ultra-marathon running?’ And I said, ‘No’ [laughs]. He said, ‘Well, it sounds like you might be quite good at it because you handle distances.’ He went on to explain all about the international set up – the Scottish championships, the British teams. To cut a long story short I came second on the TT course where the motor cycle race is on the Isle of Man and as soon as I crossed the line I thought, ‘I’m an ultra marathon runner!’


Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

JB: How do you see the landscape because I was reading in ‘The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Extreme Sports’ that extreme athletes would see landscape differently from someone else. The example they gave was a mountaineer. If a mountaineer happens to be passing by mountains they will see them but at the same time be working out routes across them.

WS: With me it’s assessing what clothing I would wear that day. I have a wide range of outdoor clothing so I can train in quite bad weather.

Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

JB: If you were a tourist though?

WS: As you say, where can I run today! When you go places you think it would be great to run up that landscape feature. You do look at it wondering how you can enjoy and get out into it.

JB: Because of the great distance you cover in these race routes, what do you find yourself thinking about?

WS: What I find is although some courses, I suppose the 100km courses like the one in Japan, were spectacularly scenic, in reality I find when you are running, you just do not see it. I might as well be running around that table top [points at B&B table] to be honest because in ultra running, I find the psychological side of it is of overwhelming importance. Obviously you’ve got to have the fitness, you’ve got to have done the training but after that, the mental side is enormous. What I find is I focus on various things. At the moment I’ve started working with a sports psychologist from the University of Sunderland and they teach you to focus on key words. You never say things like ‘I’m feeling bad now’. You would say, ‘I’ll be feeling stronger soon’, so it is all down to positive thinking. Focus on a positive word and use it like a mantra. And then you use things like visual imagery where… say for example, if you’re just running around a track for a long time you might think ‘I want to be running strongly’, so you start to visualise yourself running really strongly or you might liken yourself to an animal running. So this is all going on inside your head but in the meantime you are maintaining rhythm and relaxation. Obviously this is an enormous area for development. In a way your mind is the limiting factor after a certain point.


Ultra Marathon Race, Edinburgh (2000) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

JB: People might find it strange that you live within the limits of a small island but then run these huge distances all over the world.

WS: Sanday’s not a bad island. There are several loops I can run. Some of the other smaller islands would be hopeless but here I have several loops – a 3 mile loop, a 6 mile loop, a 10 mile loop. So you can do a combination of laps. I think the other thing is that in Orkney, as you know, there is such a feeling of space. Because of the wide horizons you can see 25 miles each way…

JB: Yes, you live right near the edge as well.

WS: We do. I can just open my door and we’re looking out to Fair Isle. Even though I live on a small island there’s a tremendous feeling of space. You’re surrounded by the sea all right, but you’ve got these tremendously wide horizons. You don’t feel closed in at all. You don’t feel that you’re on a small island.

Research Note 5: Sanna Bheag, Sanna, Ardnamurchan: M.E.M. Donaldson, April 2017

In her book, ‘Further Wanderings- Mainly in Argyll’ (1926), M.E.M. Donaldson (1876-1958) wrote that the approach and view of Sanna ‘…bursts upon you with a splendor that is almost overwhelming’ [1].

Looking over to Sanna Bay, (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Approaching Sanna Bay, (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

She continued, ‘From whichever end you approach Sanna, on reaching there you find yourself in a characteristic crofting township of twenty houses that, scattered with a delightful disregard for any ordered plan, nestle in the shelter of the rounded crags that form the landward boundary.’

Looking over to Sanna, from opposite direction, (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Looking over to Sanna, from opposite direction, (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Donaldson was to build and settle in Sanna in 1927, on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, living there for twenty years until a fire damaged the property.  It is clear in Donaldson’s  unpublished manuscript of her autobiography ‘A Pebble on the Beach[2], that the house, Sanna Bheag (Small Sanna) was a joint project taken on by both Donaldson and her friend Isabel Bonus (1875 – 1941), stating ‘The friends had determined that it [the house] should offer no affront to the landscape.’ The choice of wording in ‘affront‘ reflects Donaldson’s position on the modern houses that she saw creeping into the Highland landscape – ‘I have not ceased to deplore the ever-increasing examples of bad manners in building that are disfiguring the length and breadth of the Highlands’ [3].

Site of Sanna Bheag, M.E.M. Donaldson's home, Sanna, Ardnamurchan, (2017). Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

The crag that surrounds the site of Sanna Bheag, Sanna, Ardnamurchan, (2017). Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

Bonus, Donaldson described, worked on plans for the ‘one storey’, whilst she ‘concerned herself more with questions of material and methods of construction.’ Their main aim was that the architecture would be sympathetic to the local vernacular, whilst being adapted to ‘modern needs’. To achieve this they wished to demonstrate that ‘they might demonstrate how unnecessary it was to import any alien and ugly material or fashions to procure such requirements’ [4]. From an article Donaldson wrote in Country Life [5], materials included the local stone, ‘a beautiful blue granite… blasted with gelignite’ and a thatch, partly crafted from heather. Donaldson emphasized in her article the labour required for both. The stone was blasted from nearby and the heather pulled up at distances from the road itself, then transported to site by cart. Donaldson and Bonus were to work with a lead builder and labourers mostly from Mull, with ‘unskilled labour … supplied from the local crofters’. A photograph in the ‘Country Life article is titled ‘Thatching in Progress, the writer (third from the left) assisting.’ On viewing the rocky outcrop behind the house, one can only marvel at the level of labour required to get the materials to Sanna then, for the amenities, taking the water power and electric supply from the loch on top of the hill,

1,400 ft, of four inch piping were required. So rough and steep was the way up and so broken the hillside that it was impossible to employ even the solitary horse available, so all the steel pipes, as well as bags of cement and gravel for concrete… had to be carried up by the men.’ [6]

The house was designed complete with a photography studio for Donaldson.

'Looking out from front of Sanna Bheag', (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

‘Looking out from the front of Sanna Bheag’, (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

In further research over the last five years, I have found that there are three recorded approaches made to the door of Sanna Bheag. The first is by the founder of Highland Folk Museum, Isabel Frances Grant (1887-1983). She and Donaldson both shared a passion in vernacular Highland architecture. Where Donaldson writes of Sanna inhabitants, ‘Often in the cottages you see evidences of the skill, ingenuity and industry of the crofters in their simple furniture – box-bed, table, chairs cupboard and dresser – all home-made and often out of driftwood’, [7], one can imagine the inveterate collector within IF Grant having her attention piqued.  However, in this instance it is Donaldson’s own home that IF Grant set out to visit. In her book, ‘The Making of Am Fasgadh’ (National Museums Scotland, 2007), Grant wrote of an expedition to Ardnamurchan:

‘I was most anxious to see the arrangements in the house that Miss M.E.M. Donaldson had built in the traditional style but with modifications to suit modern ways of living, including ‘mod cons’. I have always thought this a splendid idea.’ [8].

Grant goes on to describe that she journeyed out to Sanna from Acharacle. ‘I thought that Miss Donaldson was pioneering a most valuable idea and wanted to see what her house was like. I had, however, looked forward to calling upon her with some trepidation for she could be a formidable lady and I knew in some respects we did not see eye to eye.  It was not with unmixed disappointment that I learned she was from home. I went to look at the outside of the house. This was hampered by the presence of a very inquisitive bull.’

'Closer, site of M.E.M. Donaldson and Isobel Bonus's home, Sanna Bheag', (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

‘The site of Sanna Bheag as it is now, with flat roof’, (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

M.E.M. Donaldson’s fiery temperament was not only alluded to by Isabel Grant. I believe that Compton Mackenzie (1883-1972) satirized M.E.M. Donaldson in his 1949 book ‘Hunting the Fairies’ [9]. The book follows two competitive American amateur folklorists coming to Scotland to see fairies and collect songs from islanders. Mackenzie re-cast Donaldson as a male poet called Aeneas Lamont, living with his sister at ‘The house of two hearts’. The gender switch was likely a dig at Donaldson, who had helped build her own house and was fully involved in outdoor pursuits. It is likely Mackenzie is also passing comment on her living with a female companion, Bonus, in calling it ‘The House of Two Hearts’.  The architecture of the poet’s home in ‘Hunting the fairies’ also matches that of Donaldson’s unique home and building project at Sanna Bheag. As the visitors arrive at ‘The House of the Two Hearts:

‘Welcome in’, said their host brusquely. ‘And, oh dear, what an exceedingly picturesque house,’ Mrs Urquhart-Unwin exclaimed. 

‘It isn’t old. It was only finished two years ago’, Mr Lamont hissed. ‘I wanted to show it was possible to design a twelve-roomed house in the style of a crofter’s cottage. I’ve done it. Six rooms in the main part and three rooms in each of the wings at the back. The kitchen and domestic offices form a courtyard’. [10]

A photograph of MEM Donaldson’s home also can be found in a photograph album that is part of the Violet Banks Collection, held at Historic Environment Scotland. Banks (1886-1985) was a photographer who had a studio in Edinburgh. Banks’ photographs of the Highlands and Islands were the result of a tour she made during the late 1920s / early 1930s. The photographs are captioned by Banks in her album as ‘Views at Ardnamurchan. House at Sanna built by M.E.M. Donaldson’. Whether the two women were known to each other, or that Sanna Bheag, through its unique build and story in ‘Country Life‘ had become a place of interest to visit, it is hard to say.

I visited the site of Sanna Bheag, at Sanna, Ardnamurchan on the 30th April 2017, lucky that, ‘the day [was] one to do the scenery credit‘.  Dependent on approach, the house would have been the first or last in the bay, affording it a certain amount of privacy. A low rolling dune with stretch of marram grass connects the foreground of Sanna Bheag to the expanse of  sand and dark rock. In the words of M.E.M. Donaldson,

‘To the right and left sweeps a magnificent bay of silver sand, sparkling in the sunlight, divided and diversified by patches of rock and stretches of reef. Beyond, the sea smiles serenely, and in the distance there rise the gracious outlines of the islands, radiant in soft blue.’ [11]

To see the original photographs of Sanna Bheag and an extensive gathering of information and links on M.E.M. Donaldson, please see the excellent resource

'Over to Eigg from Sanna', (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

‘Over to Eigg from Sanna’, (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

'Over to Rum, from Sanna', (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownirgg

‘Over to Rum, from Sanna’, (2017) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg


  1. P.248, Further Wanderings- Mainly in Argyll’, M.E.M. Donaldson, (1926) Alexander Gardner Ltd, Paisley
  2. Unpublished manuscript, M.E.M. Donaldson’s autobiography ‘A Pebble on the Beach
  3. Ibid
  4. Ibid
  5. P.144,’House at Sanna Bheag, Ardnamurchan, in the Western Highlands’, M.E.M. Donaldson, Country Life, Vol LXIV, No 1645, 28 Jul 1928
  6. Ibid
  7. P.250, Further Wanderings- Mainly in Argyll’, M.E.M. Donaldson, (1926) Alexander Gardner Ltd, Paisley
  8. P.74. ‘The Making of Am Fasgadh’ (National Museums Scotland, 2007)
  9. ‘Hunting the Fairies’, Compton Mackenzie, (1949), Chatto & Windus
  10. P.125, ibid.
  11. P.248, ‘Further Wanderings- Mainly in Argyll’, M.E.M. Donaldson, (1926) Alexander Gardner Ltd, Paisley

With thanks to Anne-Marie Watson, for driving me to Ardnamurchan and Sanna.

Prorogation of Parliament announced, 28th August 2019

On the day that the prorogation of UK Parliament was announced, we visited the house that poet Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978), author Valda Trevlyn Grieve (1906-1989) and their son Michael lived in for nine years from 1933, on the Shetland island of Whalsay.

Brian Smith writes, in the excellent MacDiarmid in Shetland (1), that the poet had been poor in health and economy. Friends made arrangements with a Whalsay doctor for MacDiarmid and Trevlyn’s arrival. After a period of temporary accommodation, ‘…they heard news of a cottar’s house at Sodom, near Symbister, vacant because a child had died there of an infectious disease. No-one wanted to live there.’ (2)

The house, present day, sits in a field, with drunken thistles growing in clusters at the side of the track leading up to it. The high position of the house affords views over the island, down towards the distant harbour. MacDiarmid himself had sailed out with Whalsay’s herring fishers, with an ear to borrow their dialect for his poetry.  The connecting outhouses at Sodom (Norn for sud-heim or south house) are rusting and ruinous. However the dwelling, now called Grieve House, after the poet’s real surname, is watertight and used as a Shetland Böd.

In his 1934 poem, On A Raised Beach, MacDiarmid wrote,

‘It makes no difference to them [the stones] whether they are high or low, / Mountain peak or ocean floor, palace or pigsty. / There are plenty of ruined buildings but no ruined stones.’

From the humble stones of Sodom to the limestone of Augustus Pugin’s (1812-1852) Houses of Parliament. On the 28th August 2019, the Prime Minister announced that he had asked the Sovereign for the prorogation of Parliament to be from 9-12th September, until the beginning of the new session on 14th October 2019 This was to allow the government time to set out legislative plans for the UK’s departure from the European Union, scheduled for 31st October 2019. As the announcement was made, the stones of Breiwick Beach shimmered.

Beach2Down at Symbister harbour, the berth for Whalsay’s pelagic fleet, there are signs, worn by weather and by hand, that evidence EU funding. This is nothing unusual. Signs across Scotland’s Highlands and Islands stand testament to monies from the European Regional Development Fund invested in the infrastructure of Scotland. Here at Symbister, the EU provided part-funding for the ‘Berthage and Net Handling Area’.

Sign, Whalsay, Shetland (2019), Jenny Brownrigg

Sign, Whalsay, Shetland (2019), Jenny Brownrigg

EU Flag Symbister Harbour

‘EU Flag, Symbister Harbour’, (2019), Jenny Brownrigg

With only seventeen days for Parliament to assess and debate any drafted legislation before Brexit, three separate cases were lodged as to the legality of prorogation, with the Court of Session in Edinburgh ruling it unlawful. On 24th September 2019 the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the prorogation be annulled.

Under the European Union, The Common Fisheries Policy sets quotas for pelagic fish such as herring and mackerel. This is under review as part of Brexit negotiations, with UK and EU to reach agreement on future fishing rights by July 2020.


(1) MacDiarmid in Shetland, P.43, eds Graham, L and Smith, B, published by Shetland Library, 1992.

(2) P.45, Ibid.

Europe Road, 31st January 2020

On ‘Brexit Day’, 31st January 2020, the day that the U.K. formally exited the European Union, I made a round trip to Europe Road, London.

Europe Road lies in the borough of Woolwich, located on the Greenwich Peninsula. The names of the multi-story flats, Sovereign House and the nearby Plantagenet House, allude to its royal past. Europe Road, running parallel to the River Thames, backs onto naval dockyards built by Henry VIII.


Sovereign House, Europe Road, 31 Jan 2020, Jenny Brownrigg

What was happening on this day that the U.K. took the road away from Europe? There were no parties nor Union Jacks on Europe Road. A man came out of the flats to empty his rubbish into a bin. Another was putting tools in a joinery van. A father and son fished from the docks. A plane came into land at London City airport. Ivy wrapped itself like a boa constrictor around the tree behind the community centre at the Clock House, the old Dockyard offices on Defiance Walk.


The old Dockyards behind Europe Road, 31 Jan 2020. Photo: Jenny Brownrigg

On the 31st January, a two-cannon gun battery on the nearby Thames Path at Resolution Walk, continued to defend the river and walkway from an unseen invasion.


Gun Battery, Resolution Walk, 31 Jan 2020. Photo: Jenny Brownrigg


For more in the series, ‘From Eoropie to Europe Road’, see ‘Measuring European Union subsidy in Scotland, after William Blake’s ‘Europe: A Prophecy’ (2019), Prorogation of Parliament Announced 28th August 2019, (2020) and lecture notes from ‘In or Out? How Britain Decided’, Professor John Curtice, The Stevenson Lectures in Citizenship, University of Glasgow 28.6.16.


Hive Mind: Researchers of Early Twentieth Century Women Photographers and Filmmakers in Scotland

In 2019, I was invited by National Trust for Scotland archivist Fiona J Mackenzie to be involved in the #CannaTweet Conference ‘The Female (or Those Identifying as Female) Photographer in Scotland & Her Archives- Contribution and Connection’ [1], which gave me the opportunity to consider the field of researchers currently working on early twentieth century filmmakers and photographers in Scotland.

Shona Main is exploring the work of Shetland film-maker Jenny Gilbertson  (1902-1990), whose archive is held by Shetland Museum and Archive. Shona is a Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities (SGSAH) supported practice-led candidate at University of Stirling and the Glasgow School of Art.

Maya Darrell Hewins is a PhD student at Shetland College UHI, investigating community-led archiving initiatives, with Shetland Film Archive as her primary case study. This volunteer-run community led group collect, manage and make accessible moving image material about Shetland, including amateur film footage.

Caroline Douglas is a PhD candidate at Royal College of Art. Her project ‘Women in Early Scottish Photography’ has researched the women involved in the wider process of making early photography, focusing on those who were assistants and subjects as well as makers.

Isabel Segui (University of St Andrews) has researched filmmaker sisters Ruby Grierson (1904-1940) and Marion Grierson (1907-1998), examining how they are documented in the Grierson Collection University of Stirling Archives. This was funded by SGSAH. Her new website is

Rachel Pronger and Camilla Baier are ‘archive activists’. Their ‘Invisible Women’ project seeks to re-insert forgotten women filmmakers of the 1930s and 1940s back into the story of film. This includes Kay Mander (1915-2013) and Evelyn Spice Cherry (1904-1990).

Sarah Neely (University of Glasgow), as well as her scholarship on Orcadian filmmaker Margaret Tait (1918-1999), has also written on Isobel Wylie Hutchison (1889-1982) who travelled to Greenland and the Arctic to make botanical films. Royal Scottish Geographic Society holds Hutchison’s archive.

Fiona J Mackenzie is Canna House National Trust for Scotland archivist. She has been re-interpreting Margaret Fay Shaw’s (1903-2004) images, films and words, telling the story of Shaw’s life and work. She builds on the lifework of retired Canna House archivist Magda Sagarzazu.

I spoke about Edinburgh photographer Violet Banks (1886-1985) and M.E.M. Donaldson (1876-1958). Banks travelled across the Hebrides in the 1920s. Her archive is at Historic Environment Scotland. M.E.M. Donaldson made many walks across the Highlands and Islands, using her photographs for her travel guides. The landscapes part of her archive is held by Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. Read more about these two photographers here. [2]

Rachel Boyd, currently studying MLitt History of Photography at University St Andrews, was the second speaker at #CannaTweet Conference, exploring how Margaret Fay Shaw’s 1930s’ photographs of South Uist linked both to the land and the community, arguing that ‘Shaw’s portraits were faithfully attributed with Gaelic patronymics, situating them in their ancestral heritage, attributed not just by the character of the local landscape enveloping them or their farming implements – but in relation to each other.’

Follow on Twitter: @GaelicSinger, @shonamain @SarahRNeely @RachelPronger @camillabaier @rachelwboyd @isabelgui @caddydouglas @Maya_D_H @BrownriggJenny


[1] #CannaTweet Conference took place 14.5.19. A Tweet conference is a method to present a paper entirely on Twitter, across an agreed number of tweets per speaker.

[2]  Hugh Cheape has written on M.E.M. Donaldson in the excellent article ‘Herself and Green Maria: the photography of M.E.M. Donaldson’, Cheape, H, ‘Studies in Photography’ (2006). Jennifer Morag Henderson is currently writing Donaldson’s biography.